Whistleblowing and ‘the public interest’

Chestertons v Nurmohamed

This case tested the meaning of “in the public interest” in relation to whistleblowing and contrasts with the Newman case below.

Mr Nurmohamed was a director of the estate agency, Chestertons. He claimed to have been unfairly dismissed after making protected disclosures relating to the company’s financial matters. He believed that Chestertons was deliberately mis-stating costs and liabilities, and that that affected the earnings of 100 senior managers, including himself.

The tribunal held that he had been unfairly dismissed and automatically unfairly dismissed, and had been subjected to detriments on the grounds that he had made protected disclosures. A question for the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was whether the disclosures satisfied the “public interest” requirement, triggering protection. Did disclosures which were in the interest of 100 managers do the trick?

The EAT held that the public interest test comes down to the discloser’s belief. In this case, Mr Nurmohamed reasonably believed that the disclosure was in the public interest. A relatively small group may be sufficient to satisfy the public interest test, the EAT said.

It’s something to bear in mind. Don’t assume that just because an issue may not be of significance to people outside your organisation that its relevance to a particular group won’t lead to a protected disclosure.

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